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O’ Canada

Besides the powerful reoccurring cramp in my leg things are quite nice right now.  Nikki, Mike and I just ate fish and chips with fresh caught cod and a piece of pie made from a local berry I’ve never heard of before.  Life is good in southern Labrador Canada.

We spent ten days in Aasiaat, Greenland getting ready to make the crossing to Canada.  Every day I woke up, checked the weather, worked on the boat all day, checked the weather and went to bed.  The boat didn’t have any major problems, just little repairs here and there.  What was broke, like a door knob for the pilot house or the engine heater, I had Mike bring with him.  By the time we left Aasiaat I had fixed all the issues, replaced any broken parts and gave the engine a tune up.  The boat was ready; all we needed was a weather window.

Not just was I obsessing over weather patterns daily but I also paid a group of meteorologists to tell me when they thought we should make the passage across the Labrador Sea to Canada.  We had our window on the 18th, time to go south!

For the first five days the winds were very light and we had to motor nearly the entire time.  I get tired of hearing the engine but I’d rather have flat calm seas than giant waves.   We only saw two icebergs south of Aasiaat, one was a good mile away but the other we passed right by.  I wanted Mike to see an iceberg and I knew this would most likely be the last one we saw in the Arctic so we motored up to it so Mike could get a good look.  We also celebrated our final Arctic iceberg with a glass of whiskey; the ice for our drinks had just fallen off the berg.   Glacial ice cracks and pops in your glass releasing air that’s been trapped in the ice for 1,000 years.  It makes for an awesome drink!

It was cold enough that instead of rain we had sleet and snow showers, another sign that’s time to go south.  But because we had a new engine heater and the engine was on all the time we were warm and dry inside our pilot house.  The cold air also helped to increase the northern lights.  Every night for the first 400 miles we had an incredible display of the aura borealis.  One night there were ribbons of dancing light all around us, (for lack of better diction) it was trippy.  Although the light winds made it peaceful in the ocean, we needed some wind because we didn’t have enough fuel to motor 1,000 miles south to Canada.

The winds picked up 15-20kts out of the north for the last five days.  This is the epitome of fair winds and following seas.  The winds brought clouds and near constant light rain, the pilot house keeps us out of the elements so we hardly noticed the rain.  It was smooth sailing all the way to Cartwright, Canada.  Once we got to Cartwright the clouds left and we had 3 days of beautiful sunny weather.

Cartwright is a small town of 500 in Southern Labrador, it has everything you could ask for; a free seawall to tie off to, a grocery store, a fuel truck and a bar.  It also had free laundry a free shower and free wifi.  After Greenland where you have to pay a premium for everything it was like hitting the jackpot.

The people of Cartwright were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Everyone waved and smiled, people would bend over backwards to help you.  One guy named Garfield drove us around in his truck up and down bumpy dirt roads so he we could “see the sights”.  “The sights” were a few overlooks on top of the hills where we could look out on the water, it was very pretty.  Even better were the trees! We haven’t seen a tree since May.  There is something about a big tree that I just love.  Greenland is so barren, its adds to its desolate beauty, but I miss trees.  The leaves on the birch trees had turned yellow, they were mixed in with the pines; it was so nice to see.

We left Cartwright and were making our way to Belle Strait (the strait just north of Newfoundland) when the engine started giving us trouble.  We couldn’t get more than 1,500 rpms (normally you can get 3,000) and black smoke was pouring out of the exhaust.  Only three things can do that to a diesel, bad fuel, bad injectors or a clogged air filter.  I thought it was the fuel or injectors, Nikki thought it was the air filter.  Nikki was right, I cleaned the air filter and now she runs like she’s brand new.  There are always new problems on a sailboat, it never ends.  Luckily this was an easy problem to fix.

We were nearly out of Belle Strait and into the Gulf of St Lawrence when the wind and current both turned on our nose.  The winds and current will switch to a favorable direction in 5-6 hours so we stopped at a small town of 80 people that had a dock and a restaurant with free wifi.  We just ate a nice meal and desert and in a few hours we will push off the dock and continue on our way.  Next stop Sydney Nova Scotia.

Fortitudine Vincinimus

Matt

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Sometimes West, Sometimes North (Day 56)

Westerly winds dominate the region we have sailed into.  It seems the winds can die off or blow lightly out of any direction but when the wind turns WSW it increases to 20+ knots forcing us due north.  Every chance we get we head west knowing that stronger headwinds will again force us north.  We can’t sail on a straight course to Yokohama, we sail west when possible, then north in the headwinds.

The amount of plastic flotsam in the water has exploded in the last 600 miles.  We have also pulled some of our heaviest micro plastic samples during the last week.  We have entered back into the Gyre on its far southwestern corner, again helping to locate another southern boundary of the North Pacific Gyre.  It will take several months to process our samples back on land in a lab and we are very interested to see how our data compares to other “known” data-sets from different regions of the Gyre.

When the wind dies down Nikki likes to go dumpster diving in the Gyre. She stands in the cockpit with our large fishing net in her hands pointing out plastic flotsam that looks interesting.  We sail over, she scoops it up and she investigates and photographs the plastic debris.  A few days ago we were dumpster diving in the Gyre when the strangest thing happened.  Nikki went to scoop up a large piece of plastic, which looked like part of a car fender, and accidentally caught a good sized fish. I have heard of people catching fish in strange ways but I have never seen someone catch a 10 pound fish completely on accident without a fishing pole.

When originally planning this expedition we decided to leave on April 1st.  That date got pushed back to the April 13th so Sakura could be in the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show, then pushed back to the 25th due to the boat not being finished on time.  Because of these delays we now find ourselves making the final push to Japan during early typhoon season.  So far there have only been tropical storms, one of which passed north of us a few days ago.  It was far enough north to only give us 25 knot headwinds but it’s a sign of things to come if we don’t get Sakura in port ASAP.

Headwinds are never fun but with the heat they are really make your life unpleasant.  This boat (like most boats) throw a huge amount of spray when beating into the wind.  This spray forces us to keep all the hatches closed and in the heat the boat becomes hot and muggy beyond belief.  We don’t have a dodger so if you stick your head out it will get wet.  In the middle of these 25 knot headwinds I became so tired of sitting and sweating that I put on a harness, climbed up to the mast, and clipped in.  I spent several hours tied off to the mast letting the wind and spray cool me down.  While I was happily getting soaked Nikki hatched a far better plan for staying cool.  With a cardboard tube, duct tape and a trash bag she built a Jerry rigged air conditioner.  The bag was tied open to grab the wind (and sometimes the spray, so it had a drain) and diverted it down the cardboard tube into the cabin with great force.  It was one of the simpler and most impressive jerry rigs I’ve seen, it made the rest of the day in the cabin quite bearable and can be reused when we get headwinds again.

Sakura might be a 30 foot prototype day sailor, but we came prepared.  I’ve never had so much safety equipment on any boat ever! We have 2 Epirbs, a life raft (flares), a Spot device (that I never use), a Predictwind satellite communicator (which I use daily), two manual water makers, a satellite phone, 3 GPS units, a 2 way AIS (class B) plus a backup (class A), a Fiorentino drogue and sea anchor, hundreds of feet of rode for the drogue and sea anchor, an emergency rudder (Scanmar M-Rud), a ATN mast climber, wood, fiberglass, a wide variety of tools. We came prepared to deal with just about anything.  It’s very important to have as much safety equipment as you can get.   When sailing single handed you’re only putting your life at risk, when sailing with crew you have other people’s lives in your hands.  That changes everything.

One of the unsung heroes during all of my expeditions is the wind vane.  A wind vane is the best helmsman you will ever have.  It steers for thousands of miles without a break, doesn’t eat you food, drink your water or complain.  It steers your boat using none of your precious power night and day regardless of the wind and seas.  I’ve had four different types of windvanes, Navik, Hydrovane, Auto Helm and Monitor.  Half were auxiliary rudder windvanes, the other half were servo pendulum.  If you can use one, a servo pendulum windvane is your best bet and a Monitor windvane is as good as they get.  I’ve sail over 50,000 miles with the Monitor windvane that’s bolted to the back of St Brendan, I’ve never done any maintenance to it and it still steers like a champ.  Very few items on a boat are as important as a good self-steering gear.

Although it may look on the tracking device that we are getting close to Japan we still have 580 miles to go.  We are clawing are way north and are lucky to make 100 miles in 24 hours.  It could take another week of tricky sailing, and a week is long enough to get bad weather.  My friend Simon Edwards who has sailed some 350,000 miles says “it’s not over until you tie off to the dock”.  In other words people make mistakes near the end of a long passage because you feel like you’re almost there and you let you guard down.  You could hit a rock 10 miles from the dock and sink, anything can happen underway.  So we will stay vigilant until we are tied to a dock, then we will drink Sake!!!

Matt Rutherford